The most well-known towns in Ghana are often those which present the most difficulty to any program of standardisation, because they are the ones which have been in common usage before experts and committees made their recommendations. An excerpt from Christaller’s ‘Prefatory Remarks’ to C.C.Reindorf’s History of the Gold Coast and Asante (1895) illustrates this well: “We also write Akra (as many English writers did and do), and not Accra, because the "c" is excluded from the spelling of African names, the doubling of consonants is against a fundamental law of most Negro languages, and the stress lies on the last syllable. The name "Akra" has been framed by Europeans from the Tshi name "Nkrah"; the native name is "Ga". Since all the other native names are treated uniformly, it would be awkward to retain Ashantee, Coomassie, Accra, Yariba etc. because they were written so in 1817. The spelling and explanation of African names and other words are the very weakest points in Bowdich's excellent book.”The maps shown here illustrate how difficult it is to impose linguistic principles on the practice of the public. Ultimately 'Akra' reverted to 'Accra' - the 1906 map even gives both spellings. In the last century there were further attempts to address the issue, notably Jack Berry’s The place-names of Ghana : problems of standardization in an African territory¹, published by the School of Oriental and African Languages, London in 1958, the year after Ghana’s independence. However, the fact that even today, the spelling of the nation’s capital city is officially ‘Accra’, and that of the capital of the Region of ‘Ashanti’ (not ‘Asante’) is ‘Kumasi’ (not ‘Kumase’) is an indication of the difficulty with which accepted usage can be brought into line with accepted principles.
Other examples are plentiful. In Akan place names 'ɔ' is often represented as ‘aw’, as in Nkawkaw, and Asukawkaw. The fact that ‘w’ is also used as a consonant following ‘a’, as in Kumawu and Fawumang, adds to the confusion for the uninitiated. In Ewe names, the same sound is often represented by ‘or’, as in Atorkor and Klikor. The common suffix ‘-koƒe’ meaning ‘hamlet, village’ in Ewe names shows a double difficulty, because the bilabial sound ‘ƒ’ is sometimes represented as ‘f’ and sometimes ‘p’. Thus the forms ‘-kofe’, ‘-kope’, ‘-korpe’ are all in use.2. Another source of spelling variation comes from contraction. Many place names are traditionally held to have been formed from comments made by settlers or founders based on their life experiences. Often it is merely an extract of the comment that is represented in the name. This then undergoes corruption with time. As the generations pass, pronunciation will gradually change. When it becomes necessary to make a written reference to the place, the writer will attempt to represent what is heard, perhaps without the aid of any authority to aid the spelling. This is likely to lead to variation, particularly if the work of the writer, perhaps a journalist or a teacher, precedes that of the map-maker. An example of such variation is the place name Kasaim in the Kwabre district of the Ashanti Region. It is said that the name originated from the statement "maka na mensan" (i.e. I have said it and I will not rescind my decision). It can be seen that considerable change has had to take place to generate the present name. It is therefore understandable that there are at least three other versions of the spelling: Kasaam, Kasaem and Kasem. Another example showing even more diversity is that of Achowa in the Ahanta West district of the Western Region. In this case the original utterance is said to have been “Ma twe meho”, meaning “I have distanced myself”. There are at least 3 other spellings, namely: Achawa, Achunwa and Atwewa. The demographics of Ghana are still undergoing considerable change. In the absence of an active administrative body with responsibility for monitoring the development of place names it is inevitable that such anomalies will occur.
¹ This booklet is very difficult to obtain publicly. Dr. Atoma Batoma of University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, comments on the content in “African Ethnonyms and Toponyms: An Annotated Bibliography”, Electronic Journal of Africana Bibliography, Vol.10, 2006: “This work contains detailed suggestions for solving the problems of standardization of Ghanaian toponymy. The author expresses his deep dissatisfaction with the recording of geographic names in Ghana and reviews the main challenges and obstacles to any real standardization policy. He goes on to provide a definition of place names and lays out the conditions in which they can function as authentic place names. The remainder of the work contains the author’s analysis of two important aspects of Ghanaian topology: writing and spelling.”
² The two vowel sets are technically known as (1) Advanced Tongue Root (ATR), and (2) Retracted Tongue Root (RTR), being physiological descriptions of the process of enunciation.
³ Obeng, SG, "Vowel Harmony and Tone in Akan Toponyms", Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30, no.2 (2000)